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The Next President’s Biggest Challenge

When the winner becomes clear – quite possibly late tonight, but whenever it is – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will step onto a stage and give a victory speech. One of the ritual elements of the speech will be a fervent intention to unite the country, to be “a president for all the people.” Every president-elect says it, but rarely has the line carried more freight than it does this year. The nation desperately needs uniting. The reality we all need to confront is that no matter who wins today or by how much, uniting the nation anytime soon will be nearly impossible.

I hate being pessimistic and rarely am, but the problem in this case is largely structural and unfixable in the near term. It consists of two elements. First, the U.S. president, though often described as the world’s most powerful person, actually wields little power within the overall U.S. political system. Second, many of the players whose cooperation is necessary in uniting the nation have little incentive to cooperate. Combine those realities and it’s hard to see how today’s white-hot partisanship gets significantly cooled down.

The problem’s first element: As political scientist Richard Neustadt famously observed in 1960, “Presidential power is the power to persuade.” Dictators can and often do force factions to unite by threatening to destroy them otherwise. But Neustadt and one of his former bosses, Harry Truman, noted that the president can barely force anyone to do anything apart from giving orders to the armed forces. He or she certainly can’t make Congress obey orders. But still – what’s to stop a president from emulating Lyndon Johnson and deploying masterful persuasive powers to get legislators to cooperate and enact historic measures such as civil rights laws and Medicare?

The answer is the problem’s second element: Congress has changed since Johnson’s day, with Democrats becoming more liberal and Republicans more conservative. Common ground has virtually disappeared. Through years of escalating inter-party warfare, congressional districts have been redrawn to the point where almost none of them are competitive. As a result, the problem is especially acute in the House, which influences everyone else. To win, you just have to win the primary, and primary voters tend to be each party’s most extreme members. Let’s adopt the uncharitable but realistic view that most legislators want above all to be reelected. In Johnson’s day you did that by appealing to voters of both parties, which required at least some cooperating with the other side. Today you win by being a hero to your party’s most extreme voters. To them, cooperating with the other side is treason. Your incentive is no longer to cooperate. It’s the opposite – to thwart the certain ruination that the evil opposition is plotting, whipping your supporters into a frenzy of anger and resistance.

No president, however well intended, can defeat those incentives or overhaul this structure. The one glimmer of hope is distant. Beginning to redraw districts to make them more competitive would start to change the corrosive incentives. Districts get redrawn based on the decennial census, next scheduled for 2020. So the absolute soonest we could begin to see change would be in the 2022 mid-term elections for the Congress that would be seated in January 2023.

None of this means we can’t fix our hyper-partisanship, but it means that no president alone can do much about it, regardless of fine sounding pledges in victory speeches. It will take all of us, and it will take some time.

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What We’re Reading Today

Election Day at last
And Hillary Clinton is the winner in the traditional Dixville Notch, N.H., midnight voting. Clinton got four votes, Donald Trump two; Gary Johnson and Mitt Romney (as a write-in) each got one. CNN

With 90 million expected to vote…
…thousands will monitor the election. Trump has repeatedly urged supporters to observe polling stations for signs of a rigged election, increasing the pressure on  local officials and both parties to prevent intimidation or voter fraud. The Supreme Court denied a Democrat request for a restraining order against Trump supporter Roger Stone’s political organization, Stop the Steal, which will be conducting exit polls.  USA Today

Many Hillary supporters are wearing white
Though it’s long after Labor Day, many female Clinton supporters will don white dresses, blouses, or pantsuits, representing the color of the suffrage movement. The trend took hold after Clinton wore a white pantsuit at the final debate. Fortune

Democrats could take the Senate  
Prognosticators expect the Democrats to win control by a small margin; Republicans currently hold 54 seats. Key races are in Pennsylvania, where Dem challenger Katie McGinty leads GOP incumbent Pat Toomey, and in Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, and Indiana. WSJ

Voters in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and Washington…
…will decide whether to raise the minimum wage. The first three states are voting on raising it to $12, while Washington will decide whether to raise it to $13.50. USA Today

Building A Better Leader

Not every startup needs to be the “Uber of X”
Sometimes we want immediate solutions, as when seeking a taxi or ordering food. But for other services, like laundry and house cleaning, we prefer a consistent schedule, says Ajay Prakash, CEO of San Francisco-based startup Rinse. Inc.

45% of women say they’ve experienced unwanted…
…physical conduct or touching of a sexual nature in the work place,says a new poll by Morning Consult. Fortune

In Other News

EU to look at VW cheating device discovered in Audis
California regulators found emissions-cheating software in some Audi vehicles. For Matthias Müller‘s company, the news could implicate executives who were considered clear of the scandal. It’s yet another new headache after German prosecutors recently extended their investigation to include chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch. Fortune

CBS hires Moelis and Goldman Sachs…
…to advise on a possible merger with Viacom. CBS CEO Les Moonves told investors last week that a merger could be attractive if structured right, adding that any deal is still in early negotiations. Sumner Redstone‘s National Amusements, which owns 80% of both companies’ voting shares, has encouraged them to merge.  WSJ

LeEco CEO cuts his salary to 15 cents
Billionaire CEO Yueting Jia made the announcement, adding he would invest $10 million in the company to ensure it has enough cash on hand. The Chinese tech company wants to expand in the U.S. while also developing a self-driving car, but some question whether it’s trying to expand too quickly. TechCrunch

Up or Out

Silicon Valley investor Ben Horowitz will replace his Andreessen Horowitz partner Scott Weiss on Lyft’s board. Fortune

Lumber Liquidators CEO John Presley has resigned, to be succeeded by COO Dennis Knowles. Richmond Times Dispatch

Fortune Reads and Videos

Google to provide up-to-the-minute election results…
…for anyone Googling “election results.” Data will update every 30 seconds. Fortune

McDonald’s is suing Florence, Italy, for $20 million…
…over its denial of a license to build a McDonald’s near the city’s famous Du0mo cathedral. Fortune

Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman backs BlackRock CEO Larry Fink…
…as a potential Treasury secretary. Schwarzman is a Republican, Fink a Democrat, and a famous (non-political) falling out led to the splitting of their once-united  companies. Fortune

How to watch the election results tonight
It could be a long night, especially if Virginia isn’t called for Hillary Clinton early. Fortune

Quotes of the Day

“I really believe it’s the most important election of our lifetimes because we’ve never had a clearer choice…It is a choice between division or unity, between strong and steady leadership or a loose cannon that could risk everything…We don’t have to accept a dark, divisive vision of America.” — Hillary Clinton making her final pitch to voters.  Huffington Post

“If we don’t win, I will consider this the single greatest waste of time, energy…and money…If we don’t win, honestly, we’ve all wasted our time.” — Donald Trump making his final pitch to voters.  Washington Post

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@ryanderous
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